The Expand Public Works Programme is a so-called government ‘job creation’ scheme. It officially employs 330,000 workers. But in reality it is a slave-labour scheme that enriches profiteering ‘middle men’ through the exploitation of workers and the looting of public funds. As if to prove this, EPWP workers are excluded from the new national minimum wage. Instead of R20 per hour (itself a poverty wage!), the government expects EPWP workers to accept R11 per hour. But workers have had enough!

The super-exploitation of EPWP workers is continuing. Many receive only R700 per month but work for three days per week! Contracts come-and-go and workers are passed from pillar-to-post. There is no job security and no way for workers to plan for their future or the future of their families.

EPWP workers in all contracts and all locations need to unite in one powerful campaign. Jozi@Work, CWP, Working with Fire etc. must come together. We need to organise a struggle for permanent jobs and a living wage.

Different groups of EPWP workers have joined different trade unions affiliated to the Saftu trade union federation. These include GIWUSA, DEMAWUSA and NUPSAW. It is very important that the leaders of these unions do not keep workers in silos. There must be one united campaign. Saftu supports the #OutsourcingMustFall (#OMF) campaign. This campaign was initiated by WASP in 2016. The #OMF banner is the perfect banner under which to organise a united EPWP struggle. It is already known to many EPWP workers, especially in Gauteng, having led many marches, and is backed by Saftu. It will be necessary to elect a leadership committee to guide the campaign.

Trade union rights

The ANC government denies that EPWP workers are workers. They deny them the right to be represented by a trade union of their choice and therefore the right to bargain collectively. The suppression of the democratic rights of EPWP workers by the ANC government is supported by every party that sits in provincial legislatures, metros and local councils. They all allow the super-exploitation of EPWP workers to continue. This is because they hope to get the middle-man contracts that are used to ‘employ’ EPWP workers. In other words they want to profit from workers’ exploitation.

Especially because of this indignity, it is hugely important that EPWP workers are treated with full equality as trade union members. They must be allowed full democratic participation in the trade unions on exactly the same basis as any other worker. This must include the right to elect their own shop stewards, sit in union branch meetings and other structures, be eligible for election as office bearers at all levels of the union and be eligible to be sent as delegates to union congresses. This must be the case whether or not the bosses and the politicians recognise EPWP workers’ right to organise.

Why are EPWP workers super-exploited?

To build an effective campaign, EPWP workers must be clear on why they suffer super-exploitation. It is a political question.

(1) MASS UNEMPLOYMENT. The underlying problem for EPWP workers is mass unemployment. In South Africa, more than 1 in 3 working-age people (37% – 9 million people) cannot find work. Nobody would take an EPWP ‘job’ on the super-exploitative ‘terms’ offered if they were able to find permanent work elsewhere. But there are not enough jobs! So people have no choice but to accept EPWP ‘work opportunities’.

Mass unemployment is a feature of capitalism everywhere. But so too is over-work. One in ten workers performs more than 60 hours labour per week, even though the law sets 45 hours as the maximum. In many cases, the bosses find it more profitable to over-work their existing employees rather than create new jobs.

Because the ANC government and the other political parties defend the capitalist system they don’t ever challenge this. But mass unemployment is a huge political problem for them. So they come up with the EPWP as a pathetic sticking-plaster.

(2) PUBLIC SECTOR FUNDING CRISIS. The work performed by EPWP workers – dealing with refuse and litter, community health, fire services etc. – is socially important work. This work needs to be done. But the ANC government, the provinces, the metros and local councils want this work done ‘on the cheap’. Because of their defence of the capitalist profit system, they don’t want to raise taxes on big business and the rich, or stop corruption and the looting of public funds. But this could make available the funds needed to create more permanent public sector jobs with full benefits and training.

(3) PROFITEERING ‘MIDDLE-MEN’. The EPWP system of multiple ‘middle-men’ – of so-called NGOs and contractors as the immediate ‘employer’ adds another layer to the exploitation of EPWP workers. It is very useful for the pro-capitalist politicians though. It allows them to hand-out ‘self-enrichment opportunities’ to the politically connected.

Problems rooted in capitalism

The super-exploitation of the EPWP workers is rooted in the capitalist profit-system. Understanding this is vital. Whilst fighting for every improvement, EPWP workers must be part of the wider political struggle against capitalism. This requires unity with workers, communities, the unemployed and young people. EPWP workers should participate as an organised campaign in the Working Class Summit that is bringing together working class communities and campaigns with trade unions.

This struggle needs to be armed with a clear political alternative to capitalism – that means being armed with a socialist programme for struggle:

  • Organise a broad and democratic campaign to unite all EPWP workers.
  • Kick-out all EPWP contractors! No job losses. Demand a single government employer with clear responsibility for all aspects of EPWP workers’ employment.
  • Fight for full trade union rights for EPWP workers! Campaign in the trade unions for the full recognition of EPWP workers’ democratic rights from day one of membership. Elect shop stewards among all EPWP workers.
  • Organise and struggle for permanent jobs and a living wage. Fight for the absorption of all EPWP workers into the different public sector workforces.
  • Reduce the length of the working week and share-out the work with no loss of pay to end unemployment! Build a united mass campaign of workers, unemployed and the precariously employed (e.g. EPWP workers) to end unemployment!
  • Nationalise under democratic working class and community control the banks, the mines, the commercial farms, the big factories and big businesses. A publicly owned and democratically planned socialist economy to meet the needs of all and not the profits of the capitalists.
  • Forge the fighting unity of the working class in a party of mass struggle. Build a socialist mass workers party to unite the struggles of the workplaces, the communities and the youth as a vital step toward the creation of a mass revolutionary party